In the fall of 2018, the WGAW launched an outreach and social media #NoWritingLeftBehind campaign to educate members on what to do when asked to leave written materials behind after a pitch meeting. The answer remains simple, then and now: Don’t do it.
But as Hollywood works to find its new normal in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, pitch meetings that would traditionally be held in person are now being conducted remotely via Zoom, BlueJeans, and other virtual platforms. With no opportunity to share hard copies of documents face to face, film and TV writers are dealing with increased pressure from executives and producers to send digital leave-behind documents after these meetings.
“In this strange time of Zoom meetings, there's a de facto #NoWritingLeftBehind because you're never in a physical place to leave something behind,” says former WGAW Board of Directors member John August (Aladdin), who helped spearhead the Guild’s #NoWritingLeftBehind campaign with Secretary-Treasurer Michele Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows).
"But just because the meeting is virtual doesn’t mean your words and your work should be treated any differently. I had a pitch this week and it was definitely tempting to just send them a document. But I knew that was the wrong call,” August continues. “For starters, it would set the expectation that my writing comes free. And on a creative level, it would mean I couldn’t respond in real time to concerns as they came up—so I wrote what I wanted to say, then said it. Even though the world is topsy-turvy, the same fundamental principles apply: Pre-write for yourself, not for others.”
This all-too-common industry practice of “pre-writing” is work created by a writer before being hired, much less paid, and may include treatments, outlines, or notes. So what should a writer do if asked to leave writing behind or submit written material after a pitch? Just say no.
“I got asked the other day to send in an outline I was pitching from on Zoom, but said no,” explained Mulroney.
TV writers are also reporting that they are being asked by execs or producers to send written material in, whether during virtual pitch sessions or to follow up.
“We’re fortunate that writers can continue to work these days, and I’m hearing encouraging stories about development and writers’ rooms gearing up as we all adjust to remote meetings and pitches,” says Madam Secretary creator–showrunner Barbara Hall. “Everybody wants to do their part to keep moving content along, but it’s important to remember that the WGA policy on pitch documents remains the same: no documents without compensation.”
Before the COVID-19 outbreak made virtual pitch meetings commonplace within the industry, one Guild-suggested response for writers being asked to send or leave written material behind still applies: “I’m happy to hop on the phone and pitch it again to whoever needs to hear it.”
“As we all adjust to the challenges of working virtually, we realize everyone's doing their best,” says Mulroney. “That doesn't mean, however, that the rules should change. Writers being asked to submit written documents for unpaid development is still unacceptable. Please use the tips, guidelines, and rules we lay out in our No Writing Left Behind video to figure out a process with your producer/exec that works for you, moves your project and process forward, and protects you from unpaid work.”
“If anyone is feeling pressure around this issue,” says Hall, “remember to make the Guild the responsible party. No one is in this alone, even when we're in little boxes on Zoom.”
Show your support on social media by using #NoWritingLeftBehind and #NoFreeWork and looping in @WGAWest on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.